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50 Years Ago: Gorman defends Rough Rock school

WINDOW ROCK

The Rough Rock Demonstration School has come under attack and Howard Gorman, one of the most respected members of the Navajo Tribal Council, has vowed to get to the bottom of the controversy.

In November 1967, he spent three days at the school, interviewing teachers, administrators, students and their parents to find out if the allegations being made about the school’s curriculum were valid.

“The school has been severely criticized by many people,” Gorman said, for not carrying the same courses as offered in state schools. “There are many people who feel that Rough Rock has missed its calling.”

He stood up for the school, pointing out that the way the government has taught Navajos over the past century has hurt the Navajo people.

“The BIA has attempted to teach Navajos the American way of life,” Gorman said.

“However, they have completely failed to teach Navajo students the code of ethics they should follow,” he said. “They have failed to convey to them what the American way of life is and what it involves.

“When Navajo students leave the BIA schools, they are completely lost,” Gorman said. “They are in a no man’s land in the field of education.”

Rough Rock, he said, is teaching Navajo students “their own legends, mythologies, traditions and the history of our own people.”

He pointed out that students who go to Rough Rock learn about famous Navajo headmen such as Manuelito and Barboncito “as well as many other great people from Navajo history in addition to the regular courses.”

The BIA schools are good at teaching Navajos about the history of France, Germany and Spain “but they are never taught their own history and their own traditions.”

He said he was very impressed with the students he met at the school.

“Every child was very courteous, which is something you never see in the government schools,” he said, adding that something else you don’t see in government schools are Navajo parents volunteering to supervise the children during lunch and play periods.

Rough Rock wasn’t the only Navajo institution being criticized this month.

A major new syndicate sent out three articles to all of its newspaper customers during November giving what the articles said was a true picture of what life was like on the Navajo Reservation.

The articles, according to members of the United Indian Traders Association, depicted the Navajos as “poor and lazy and living in the nation’s largest ghetto.”

The articles also said that the attempts by the BIA to improve conditions on the reservation were “completely ineffectual” – which may have been accurate.

But the traders were up in arms in the articles describing Indian traders as “despicable thieves.”

Russell Foutz, the president of the association, said he planned to meet with tribal and BIA officials in the next couple of weeks to see if some kind of counter articles could be sent out to these same newspapers counteracting the misinformation the previous articles had given out.

The problem, as he saw it, said Foutz, is that reporters from cities like Chicago and New York come to the reservation with preconceived ideas of what life on the reservation is like and only look for things that uphold these beliefs.

“You can’t get an accurate picture of what life is like on the reservation if you only spend a day or two and talk to tribal members who are bitter about their life,” he said.

“There are plenty of Navajo families who enjoy the life they have on the reservation and have no problem following their traditional ways,” he said.

As for the accusation against traders, Foutz said if you interview 100 Navajos, 99 of them will say traders are a good part of life on the reservation.

But if you talk only to the one percent that had a problem with a trader in the past and is still mad about something that happened a decade ago, you are going to get the wrong idea about the relationship between the Navajos and the trader.


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About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.

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